Title: Love, Essentially

Author: Sorceress Fantasia

Pairings: Aeris/Cloud, Tifa/Cloud, Yuffie/Cloud, mostly Leon/Cloud

Warnings: None

Word count: 1695

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: As much as I would love to lay claim to Cloud, I'm kinda scared of Leon's gunblade. So well, I don't own Kingdom Hearts and its character, and neither do I own the various Final Fantasies and their characters.

Summary: Four people in Radiant Garden, and their four different languages with which they express their care and love. But only one language will be understood. Leon/Cloud

Aeris believes that if someone is worth loving, then he is worth loving with all she can give.

It is her way, her conviction, her belief.

But when it comes to Cloud, her way is twisted, her conviction tested and her belief insignificant.

Cloud is warm, Cloud is cold.

Cloud is unbelievably sweet, Cloud is incredibly aloof.

Aeris tries her best to please, to stay true to her way, her conviction, her belief. She does not want to give up. It is not in her nature to give up easily.

She bakes him his favourite cookies. She makes him the sweet treats that are his secret fetish that only she knows. She mends his clothes.

When Cloud is leaving the house in the morning, she sends him off with a bright smile and a soft reminder to take care of himself. When Cloud returns in the evening, she welcomes him back with a hug and the promise of a warm dinner and bath.

Before Cloud's mood can take a turn for the worse and he decides to leave Radiant Garden, she slots little notes into his pants pocket, little messages asking about his health and how she'll miss him if he is gone.

Cloud is receptive, Cloud is hostile.

Cloud accepts the cookies with a soft 'thanks', takes the offered sweet treats with a pink tinge on his face and silently conveys his gratefulness, both for the treat and for keeping the secret that – a secret. He takes extra care to not ruin his clothes again, especially those parts where her needle has so meticulously mended.

When she smiles brightly at him as he leaves in the morning, he manages a tentative smile for her. When she hugs him as he returns in the evening, his arms are usually limp and unmoving, and when they do return the hug, it is a hesitant one, his arms unsure and his posture stiff.

The little notes are kept carefully in a little box in Cloud's room.

But Cloud does nothing more.

And other than that, Aeris does not know how else to love Cloud.

Tifa believes that if someone is worth loving, then he is worth loving all her life.

It is how she has always believed it should be, since the moment she saw her mother taking a sip of the pot of freshly brewed coffee before passing the cup to her father.

But Cloud does not drink coffee. He drinks beer. He drinks vodka. He drinks rum.

He drinks anything but coffee.

And so Tifa tries to satisfy his palate by mixing drinks. A little here, a little there, something she knows he likes, and something she thinks he will like.

Cloud does, most of the time, but she can't really tell, because no matter what's in the glass, Cloud will drain it empty. Not one drop is left. Tifa isn't sure if Cloud is just being polite, that he doesn't want to waste anything, or that he really likes it. He doesn't say. And she's not sure if she should ask.

So Tifa wants to try harder. And so does the drinks she mixes. Alcohol poisoning is the only thing that keeps her from adding too much into the concoctions.

Cloud starts getting the occasional hangovers, and yet he silently insists on finishing every drop of whatever Tifa hands him. Tifa still isn't sure if he likes it.

And she doesn't find out that Cloud gets hangovers until Aeris starts offering a glass of orange juice to him every morning, and until she hears Cloud being absolutely miserable over the porcelain with Leon patting and soothing his back when she walks by the toilet one day.

She pursues another technique.

Under the stars, one so similar to the one she had seen back in their Nibelhelm, she tries to walk him down the nostalgic lane. The last time they had seen the stars like this together, she mentions nonchalantly though she feels anything but nonchalant, was before he left for SOLDIER. And before he left, he'd promised her that he'd save her if she ever gets into a pinch, just like her knight in shining armour.

He merely averts her gaze and nods dumbly, but he does nothing else.

Apart from that, Tifa does not know how to love Cloud.

Yuffie believes that if someone is worth loving, then he is worth loving with every fiber of her being, her heart and her soul.

It is how she thinks it should be, her mind tinged with the romantic tales of brave knights and beautiful princesses trapped by dragons, from those books the adults had read to her before she went to bed as a child.

But her world has no dragons, no knights, and she definitely isn't a princess.

There're only her friends (two of whom did feel vaguely like princesses) and her enemies.

Then again, if she were to pin someone in her group of friends down as a knight, Cloud and Leon seem to fit the bill pretty nicely, she thinks.

Both are incredibly handsome and deceptively strong. Two men at the peak of their prime, surely, they are the knights praised and loved in her books.

Yes, they are definitely knights.

So how would one go about romancing a knight, she wonders.

Yuffie's seen what Aeris and Tifa have done. And she realizes that their methods don't really work. In her mind, at least, for she sees nothing romantic in baking cookies and mixing drinks. Maybe leaving little notes and messages and admiring the brilliant night sky is sweet and nice, but Yuffie thinks those are too troublesome and too subtle.

When Yuffie does something, she wants it done big and flashy.

So at breakfast, she unceremoniously dumps her bacon –her least favourite and Cloud's favourite- onto Cloud's plate. And in return, she snags a little of the scrambled egg –her favourite and Cloud's least favourite- for herself. While she is beaming at finding what seems to be the perfect solution, Cloud only blinks. She does not understand why both Aeris and Tifa sigh and share their scrambled eggs with Cloud.

When Leon mentions the need for someone to transcribe some audio tapes which he had found in Ansem's old office, Yuffie volunteers readily. She ignores the glint of surprise in his eyes and promises herself to do a good job. She does, even if she falls asleep more than a few times whilst on the job, and though Leon does thank her, there is nothing more.

And Yuffie isn't sure if she loves either of them at all.

Leon believes that if someone is worth loving, then he is worth loving despite all his flaws, his weaknesses, his vulnerabilities.

It is not his way, not his conviction, nor is it his belief. Those words are far too strong.

It is not how he has always believed it should be, and he doesn't remember any sweet, tender moments between his parents or any other adults to form this perception.

It is also not how he thinks it should be as a result of heroic feats written in story books, where the knights will always succeed in defeating the dragon and saving the princess. He never had time to read those things anyway.

To him, it is a fair trade, because he comes with a dark past of a destroyed home and abandoned friends, and a heavy burden of rebuilding his home town which now feels a lot less like home because of all the missing people. Leon is good at making strategic decisions concerning the town, is rather adept at handling friendships and camaraderie, but he is unfortunately, quite hopeless at managing romantic relationships.

And so he believes that he has to accept the other person, accept all his flaws, his weaknesses, his vulnerabilities, because Leon needs the other person to accept all of his in return. It is a fair trade.

Leon doesn't know how to cook anything that doesn't kill the taste buds, nor does he know how to mix up the alcohol into something that won't eat a hole in the stomach.

The thing Leon knows best is how to wield his sword and fight. He also knows when to remain silent.

He spars regularly with Cloud. There is nothing they say during the spars, usually, and they like it that way. And when the spar is over, Leon lets Cloud help him up, always taking the offered hand. They wander back to their house to quietly apply medication for the more severe injuries and they say nothing about the less serious ones.

Sometimes, when Cloud can't finish all the cookies and sweet treats Aeris makes him, Leon will quietly step in and eat a few, just so they won't waste anything and Cloud won't have to see Aeris' disappointment at the unfinished food. Cloud usually lets him, especially since Leon knows not to eat the chocolate chip cookies that are Cloud's favourite.

Leon does the same for the drinks Tifa comes up with, sipping a few glasses in Cloud's place so he doesn't have to deal with her crestfallen face. And on the occasions when Cloud silently insists on finishing everything on his own –mostly on nights when Tifa claims that that night's drink is the best she's ever made, which turns out to also be the strongest- when Cloud gets a hangover the next morning, Leon only pats and soothes his back while he empties his stomach.

The few little notes that Cloud misses, slotted where Aeris thinks that Cloud stows his weapon but is in fact the place where Leon's often keeps his, Leon will stuff them into a specially designated tin can, one that's placed beside the little metal box that Cloud uses to store all the messages he receives from the girl, just so Cloud can read them before storing them away in the metal box.

Compared to the girls, Leon seems to do nothing at all.

But to Cloud, perhaps that is the best way.

And other than that, Leon does not know how else to not love Cloud.


A/N: Always remember that the way people express their love for you is different, so just because you think somebody doesn't like you doesn't make it true; you may just have a different love language.

Anyway, happy birthday, aurons-fan!

And please remember to review if you enjoyed this piece! Thanx!